Creative Destruction

October 5, 2006

Products of Damaged Minds

Filed under: Current Events,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 12:41 am

The New York Times has a short editorial called “Three School Shootings” (login required) that uses recent school violence to argue somewhat obliquely against gun ownership. The most notable part to me is this:

The weapons were the same, and so was the conflict between the hideous assault of a damaged mind and the atmosphere of openness and trust that makes education possible.

This has all the hallmarks of a colorful, calculated juxtaposition that works as rhetoric but fails to provide enough context or content to do more than play on the readers’ emotions. The conclusion of the editorial is this:

But in these killings we see an open society threatened by the ubiquity of its weapons, in which one kind of freedom is allowed to trump all others. Most gun owners are respectable, law-abiding citizens. But that is no reason to acquit the guns.

I have to wonder if the NYT isn’t losing the forest through the trees. The methods and mechanisms of violence aren’t interchangeable, but neither are they the real point. The onus should be on the damaged minds that produce the motivations to realize such horrors. Further, the salient point isn’t one freedom (the right to own guns) trumping others (e.g., the right not to be shot by guns), it’s the first quote: damaged minds running free in an open society.

I don’t know what the incidence of criminally aberrant behavior is in the country or world compared to that found in history, recent or otherwise. Three school shootings within a week certainly rivets our attention, but is this just an unfortunate series of compressed events bound to happen given the fact that we’re nearly 300 million people in the U.S.? Even if we banned guns, or worse, became a totalitarian society, we still couldn’t ensure everyone’s safety in the face of some statistically inevitable number of people going berserk every week.

5 Comments »

  1. There are cases that make the damaged minds case. Consider, for example, a fellow in Englewood, Colorado who ran out of money when he lost his job, stopped taking his psychiatric drugs, and killed two women (strangers to him, one of whom had won a job he may have applied for) at a local K-Mart.

    The recent school shootings don’t fit this profile. These men didn’t have long rap sheets or extended histories of mental illness or any other forms of obvious distress.

    One was a carpenter and outdoorsman who was in touch with extended family. He helped run a haunted house with some other people and treated women he had as apartment guests to use the swimming pool chivilrously. He booed the hometown football team, the Broncos, but that was a pretty small bloch.

    The other was a delivery man with a wife and three kids (although he’d lost another years before). Almost no one knew he’d previously molested someone else.

    Both men could have passed a Brady check with flying colors and appeared to have engaged in significant advanced planning. Neither gave any obvious warning signs, except those calculated to be received after it was too late. No one knew of their secret fantasies to molest and kill girls. In the universe of working class rural men, neither would have ranked anywhere near the top of anyone’s threat list, although, perhaps, they would not be at the bottom either.

    The Wisconsin shooting showed more warning signs, but what young man in school doesn’t express hostile feelings towards a school principal? We don’t except adolescents to be a sober as adults. It is also already against the law for them to bring guns to school and to carry concealed weapons.

    It is true that in England or Japan (which hardly count as totalitarian societies despite their strict gun controls) that none of these shootings could have happened. But, they probably could have happened in Canada, even though it has far more strict gun controls than those in the United States.

    Many murders rooted in damaged minds or guns could be prevented with better laws and better law enforcement. But, these cases don’t obviously fit in this mold.

    Comment by ohwilleke — October 9, 2006 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

  2. It is true that in England or Japan (which hardly count as totalitarian societies despite their strict gun controls) that none of these shootings could have happened.

    In the UK (of which England is only a part) we’ve had one school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland. We’ve also had one other spree-shooting in Hungerford, England and a Machete attack on a nursery class in Wolverhampton, England, with no fatalities. The UK’s firearms laws were tightened up considerably after these shootings.

    Taking our population of around a fifth of the US’s into account, we seem to have significantly fewer of this kind of incident. I agree that your likelyhood of being victimised by a spree-killer is not the measure of a free society.

    Comment by Daran — October 9, 2006 @ 8:38 pm | Reply

  3. I stated England on the belief that firearms laws differ in Scotland. Am I in err on that point?

    Comment by ohwilleke — October 10, 2006 @ 12:34 pm | Reply

  4. Tightening gun laws following a rampage or making airport security obscenely byzantine following a terrorist attack is reactionary. It’s like treating the symptom in medicine rather than treating the sickness.

    There are different attitudes and values in different cultures. I can’t say why folks in the U.S. get it in their heads once they go berserk to go into schools weilding weapons. Some of it must certainly be copycat mayhem. But again, those are symptoms of a larger issue.

    Comment by Brutus — October 10, 2006 @ 12:44 pm | Reply

  5. ohwilleke:

    I stated England on the belief that firearms laws differ in Scotland. Am I in err on that point?

    Almost certainly the laws differ in detail, but the net effect is similar – strict firearms control.

    Brutus:

    Tightening gun laws following a rampage or making airport security obscenely byzantine following a terrorist attack is reactionary. It’s like treating the symptom in medicine rather than treating the sickness.

    In the absence of a cure, I go with treating the symptom, especially when that symptom involved people rampaging through schools.

    The nonsense they call “airport security” isn’t even treating the symptom.

    Comment by Daran — October 10, 2006 @ 5:57 pm | Reply


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